Nigeria Lacks Institutions of Governance to Checkmate the Excesses of Their President – Members of National Assembly Are In-tow Worshippers Who Are Afraid to Speak Up, says EE Okpa
Questions for this written interview of Dallas-based EE Okpa was written by Joel Nwokeoma & Alexander Okeke of the Punch Newspapers, Nigeria – June 2021
1. After several outcries from Nigerians over the unwillingness of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to speak to them on burning issues, he granted a press interview two weeks ago. What is your assessment of his responses to the issues raised?
Let me get this straight, why do some in Nigeria media address President Buhari using his old military rank? Why not simply President Buhari. By invoking his military rank even though retired, many Nigerians who were not even born at the time he was Head of State are confused, believing maybe Buhari’s ways are due to military-style. As to President Buhari’s response on matters of national interests, he is not known to be one given to expressing his thoughts very well. Let Nigerians not forget, whatever credibility then Head of State Buhari had was due to his 2nd in Command Tunde Idiagbon, who was a firecracker and provided leadership. Now aged and docile, Buhari appears clueless and only comes to speak ‘AT’ Nigerians after his handlers have prepped and prompted him and still, he does a poor job. Nigerians just have to endure until his term is up as he joins the ranks of Ex.
2. The President was criticized for saying while making reference to the Civil War that his administration would treat secessionists from a section of the country in a language they would understand. Are there implications of such a comment on the existence of a nation like Nigeria?
It is a matter of choice of expressions or use of words. I think the agitations for secession are a distraction which, in the minds of those doing so, gets them the attention. In a civilian administration whereby the rule of law ought to guide how to handle matters of disenfranchisement, taking to the streets to be destructive gives President Buhari the opportunity to be harsh/stern dealing with the situation. He wouldn’t want to see Nigeria disintegrate under his watch. But again, his style of bland leadership has enabled the agitations since he is a docile president. President Buhari speaks at Nigerians not speak to/with Nigerians, and coupled with the fact communication is not his forte, he complicates matters by saying what he says. All in all, President Buhari is within his right to use words and expressions he believes will send across his message – whether they help or harm or hurt the cause, it is a matter of interpretation.
3. The controversy over open grazing in the Southern part of the country has continued to linger, especially with the imposition of a ban on open grazing by southern governors and the decision of the Federal Government to revive grazing routes. From your experience living in the U.S., what is the practice?
Such will never happen in the US as private property rights are superior rights that the US constitution guarantees. However, in the case of overriding public interest, such rights can only be taken after due compensation. In the case of Nigeria, whereby the Land Use Decree of 1979 was adopted/amended as Land Use Act 1999, the federal government is the ultimate owner of all land in Nigeria, with some rights devolved to states. And I am not aware of designated grazing paths/routes which require the cattlemen to stay within the designated routes. It is an open/wild grazing situation. With such sweeping powers, it is no wonder the issue of grazing has garnered undue appropriation. The Southern Governors who often function along party lines, not overall public interests, are confused and appear powerless as to how to engage the federal government to address the matter. I am not aware of any resolution passed by them as to what needs to happen to resolve the matter. And no group of them, through their various State Attorney Generals, have initiated a lawsuit challenging the rights. And am not sure either the House Members and or Senators from affected areas have sent a message on the matter. The issue of grazing is politicized and used by President Buhari to keep the distraction ongoing while doing nothing to advance what will make Nigeria a formidable nation. Cattle Ranching is a solution, but many do not see the need or want to explore such an option.
4. Is that practice workable in Nigeria? If no, why?
I have been approached by some in Nigeria to assist in finding solutions to the issue, but what I have suggested often end up not adhered to. I live in Texas, and it is the biggest cattle state in the US with meatpacking and processing plants. There are more cattle in Texas than all of West Africa, and we do not have an issue with grazing. It is an industry that is regulated and contributes significantly to our state GDP. All of the cattle in Nigeria can be handled in one state in the north. But given the style of FREE RANGE GRAZING, which some see as President Buhari’s way to Fulanize Nigeria; which is a joke, Nigerians being disposed to incessant distractions just so there is confusion are enjoying their own medicine.
5. Do you think politics and ethnic coloration have played any role in worsening the problem? If yes or no, how?
No doubt. Nigeria is full of tribal people and hardly citizens. Everything done in Nigeria is from the angle of intra- and inter-tribal beliefs such that it does not matter what the reasonable solutions are, tribal feelings and sentiments override. Since 1970, no Nigerian Head of State and or President has spoken to the heart of Nigerians – they have often enjoyed and seen their political ascendency as rights of their tribe and cower to such narrow scope at the expense of the nation. And there is no reasonable end to such a divisive attitude. It is what Nigerians do and enjoy doing – wearing their tribal identity as a badge of honor while dishonoring the nation NIGERIA.
6. As a member of the Nigerian Diaspora community, what impression do you have about how the Nigerian government is handling rising insecurity in the country?
I am sorry, I don’t like nor subscribe to the expression Nigerian Diaspora – I left for the US by choice and not a member of any Nigerian organization in the US. With that in mind, the insecurity situation is a big negative mark on Nigeria. In early 1990, I wrote a piece carried by NAN New York newsletter as well as USAfricaonline magazine titled “As Nigerians Live in Mini-Prisons” – opinion on walled compounds, which was at the beginning of security challenges. Decades later, the situation is worsening and Nigeria Police Force which ought to be a leader in dealing with such, is weakened by old-style policing used in the 21st century. Insecurity harms and clips any nation as persons are afraid to live life they want and, in turn, stifle the economy. And for foreigners who chose to invest and or visit Nigeria, there is a constant question – is it safe. Every nation is subject to crime but what matters are measures introduced to deal with them. Nigeria seems deaf on modern ways to deal with such as its leadership is top-heavy and provided 1+36 men and the array of elected and appointed officials enjoy security entourage, the rest are left to their own devices. It is an animal kingdom – survival of the fittest even if it means doing it at the expense of the rest – Welcome to Nigeria Clan.
7. Many Nigerians living abroad find it difficult to easily make up their minds to visit their hometown for fear of being attacked or killed. Do you have any personal experiences you can share?
Thank God. I don’t have any personal negative experience and as you know, I have been in Nigeria twice this year for family-related matters. It is always at the back of my mind when visiting. There are many who will not visit and will stay away. That is a big loss to Nigeria. Nigeria tourism does not enjoy its potential because who wants to travel/visit a country where news of killings and kidnappings are rampant? Would you?
8a. How much impact can this problem have on foreign direct investment for Nigeria as an important source of revenue for the country?
Huge impact because no one wants to invest and or visit a country with such a reputation. Nigeria is a nation that cares less about its reputation. For those who invest, they demand more in returns because of the high risk. For example, the oil/gas sector – Nigeria’s main sector has the highest production cost because of reported and documented risks. In the end, Nigeria earns less per barrel than any member nation of OPEC. Nigeria’s ability to attract investments in the non-oil/gas sector is restricted because of the perception of security challenges and incessant risks.
8b. There is an air of distrust among many Nigerians about the willingness of the Nigerian government to effectively deal with insurgents killing innocent Nigerians and perform its responsibility of protecting the lives of its citizens. Do you think the government has tough on insurgents and bandits as expected?
Anything that will keep Nigerians distracted and remove their eyes from the prized ball/goal is exploited and used by the government. In the government’s narrow and warped sense of duty, the more Nigerians are distracted, they pay less attention and focus on survival. Insurgency didn’t just pop up; they have been around for more than 50 years – just getting bolder as Nigeria democracy, more like DEMONCRAZY has produced s(h)ituation and conditions that have left many without government protection.
8c. As a former U. S. naval officer, what measures should the Federal Government adopt to address insecurity in Nigeria?
I was never a member of US Navy – but a proud Admiral in Texas Navy – an honor earned by commission by then Texas Governor Perry for community service. However, I am a graduate of Dallas Police and Dallas FBI CA programs and currently serve as a Board Member representing Dallas District 11 on Dallas Police Community Oversight Board. I have a pretty good understanding of the roles of law enforcement, and way back in early 2000, when Tafa Balogun was Nigeria’s IG of Police – I wrote a concept paper on How to Establish Community Policing to Bolster NPF Role. And as a formal Dallas Mayoral candidate, police matters feature significantly during campaigns. NPF is handicapped on many fronts – budget constraints and equipment to enable them to step up on crime-fighting. The entire budget of NPF is about $1b, which accounts for recurring and capital expenses – very little for crime-fighting. In most US cities – the police budget as part of Public Safety takes the highest amount of their budget. City of Dallas Police Budget is higher than that of Nigeria NPF, and Dallas has only 1.3 million population compared to Nigeria 200m. Nigerians are not disposed to assisting and working with the police to combat crimes since the police have trust issues. Active citizenry assists in dealing with crimes because police respond after the fact often. There should be awareness campaigns, but above all – NPF should work to earn the confidence and trust of Nigerians in order to be effective in doing their duties. Those committing crimes in Nigeria are not GHOSTS but Nigerians, and they are known persons.
9a. Nigerian political parties have been criticized for lacking in ideology. Do you agree with that?
Yes. Nigeria has no political parties – mere loosely gathered persons who use political labels to identify themselves without core beliefs in what they are identifying with. It is a movement, not a political party – a political affiliation by conviction as they align to see whether their party wins, so they enjoy. Since 1999, there have been hundreds if not thousands but the same persons crossing in and out, looking for ways to ensure their stomach and pockets are taken care of.
9b. Defection from one major party to another is a common practice among Nigerian politicians. As a republican, what does it tell you about the interest of these politicians or what they are out to gain?
These persons are PIMPs – Put-In-My-Pocket persons who are looking for what they get, not service they render for the common good for the greater good. Nothing wrong with one migrating to a different political identity. In Nigeria, however, it is done for the wrong reasons – and that is why Nigeria has not achieved much in terms of political philosophies and sound party identities.
10. There have been calls to cut down the cost of governance in Nigeria, especially the remuneration of public office holders, to increase funding for capital projects in the country. Do you think the cost of governance in Nigeria is too expensive and will slashing the salaries and allowances of public servants help?
Great question -Yes and Yes in all counts. Nigeria has one of the most expensive governments in the world. There should be moves by many civil organizations to sue for review and reduction of what they are paid and, when necessary, eliminate or limit the allowances. Nigeria plays Politics of the Purse – and it has led to all manners of persons getting into office to feed their insatiable appetite. The number of Senators and House Members is too many and cabinet appointees at states and federal levels drag on the government. In Texas, we have what is called a part-time legislature that only meets 6 months every 2 years and each State House Member and Senator is paid $7,200 annually. Once the session is over, which commences January 1st of an odd year for 6 months, they return to their respective homes and do whatever they do for a living. As a result of this style, Texas has the least cost of government in the US. Texas Governor does not have a cabinet but appoints persons to boards and commissions who carry out duties on behalf of the governor. I have served in such a role, and we are not paid salaries but reimbursed expenses relating to duties. There is no apparent reason to have full-time legislators in Nigeria who gets paid for doing nothing.
11. In your June 18 opinion piece published in The PUNCH, you traced Nigeria’s current challenges to the amalgamation of a “loosely stitched” landmass in 1914. Why do you not think the bad leadership, rather than hatred among tribes, is responsible for the failure you wrote about?
Those who govern and rule Nigeria are not ghosts and were once Nigerians who complained before they get into power but turn around and do worse things. Bad leadership and overwhelms weight on tribal identity contribute to Nigeria’s intractable ills. It is hard for most Nigerians to see things beyond their tribe and often allegiance to effete traditional institutions/rulers who seem to compete for attention and power with modern leadership formats. Nigeria has many issues tugging at her people, which makes it hard to see the bigger picture. At independence, there should have been a law to abolish all traditional rulers and develop formats suitable for building modern nationhood. I am amused by how many loose and lousy monarchs there are in Nigeria, often feel-good creations that have no collateral value. Now that Nigeria is so deep into these effete enclaves, it will be near impossible to change. It is so annoying seeing a Nigeria President or Governor bow/kneel before a traditional ruler. A President of Nigeria is the highest political office, and no one in that position should bow/kneel before a traditional ruler. Anyone doing so is disrespecting Nigerians. But again, Nigerians love loving things just so they are seen as hoisting a tradition that brings them no collateral value.
11a. Hate is a common problem in democracies the world over, even in the U.S., where gun violence and hate speech are reported often. Is there something peculiar about the one in Nigeria and how it hampers development and unity?
You are right; hate and violence are human issues, but in certain societies, attempts through laws have helped to curtail and contain some of them. In the case of Nigeria, such hate starts from families and is transported to the bigger communities. There is strong INTER- and INTRA- tribal disdain and dislike in Nigeria. Let’s not justify this by saying it exists in other societies. I was not born in the US, but since I settled in Dallas, I have run for office and I have enjoyed political appointments from local to federal levels. Many Nigerians who live in parts of Nigeria they are not originally from will have difficulty getting elected as Governor, Senator, etc., from a state they have lived all their lives. For example, Lagos State is a state that many Nigerians who are not Yoruba live in and for all their lives. What are the chances a non-Yoruba will ever be elected Governor of Lagos State or a Senator from Lagos State? The sun will first rise from the West before that happens. And that applies in almost all the states. In the US, once one meets and establishes residence requirements, one can run for any office in that state. As a naturalized citizen, the only office I cannot run for is that of President. Nigeria is a TRIBAL country, not a nation of citizens. Hate by tribespeople is severe and wicked than by citizens.
12. Why do you think unity is a prerequisite for restructuring to become a reality or effective?
You have heard the expression – we are on the same page. Well, how about getting on the same paragraph – that way, understanding is closer? Unity of purpose is a stronger bond than restructuring on the basis of tribal feelings and needs. Nigerians have no common goal to build a formidable nation but to build one along with tribal identity because they see themselves as tribespeople, not citizens.
13. You described Nigeria’s reputation as one bottom of the barrel. What impression do Americans have about Nigeria in terms of governance, integrity, transparency, and respect for the rule of law?
Undeniable as Bottom of the Barrel in terms of reputation. While there are no perfect nations, Nigeria does not do herself good service doing what it does. CIA, State Department, and US media all have reported on Nigeria, and it is not rosy. Good or Bad, Nigeria aids in such unflattering opinions because her leaders home and abroad do things that paint the country in negative ways. Nigeria has integrity challenges and is hardly a transparent country. Try relieving information from any Nigerian agency, and it is like pulling teeth with toothpicks.
14. How do such impressions make Nigerians, like you, in the U.S. feel?
My ancestry and heritage are never in doubt, but what I have done in the US is due to personal choices and not because I am a Nigerian. I am a Nigerian by Birth but am American by Choice, and my choice drives what I do. However, when I see opportunities where Nigerians in the US are unduly attacked and or labeled, I never hesitated to take on the fight and I have records of such. Nevertheless, the impressions of Nigerians by certain persons are negative, which tends to affect how they relate to and or treat Nigerians. Interestingly, Nigerians do the same things to themselves, having negative opinions of their fellow Nigerians based on tribe. What goes around comes around – isn’t that something?
15. Many Nigerians at home may wonder what US citizens of Nigerian origin have done or are doing to help reposition the country.
Undue expectations. Nigerians in the US do not owe Nigeria any debt/measure to reshape the country. It is a misplaced expectation as Nigeria did not send these Nigerians to go and learn about the US and come back to make things work. Maybe some did come on scholarship from Nigeria – I came by choice and owe Nigeria nothing. However, if the Nigerian government sees a need to recruit and woo certain Nigerians, they should embark on such a drive. To sit around and expect Nigerians in the US to come and re/build Nigeria is a wasted wait. By the way, 95% or more Nigerians in the US have no clue or ideas on what to offer Nigeria to make it work better. If not for the exchange rate of Dollar to Naira that has given many Nigerians a false sense of arrival, many do not have contents worthy of exchange.
16. The Buhari regime has been accused of stifling free speech and the right to protest in a democratic country. What does this say about his style of governance and what can Nigeria learn from what is obtainable in the U.S.?
No surprise there when Nigerians address him as President General Buhari; they remind themselves he is a military man, and what do they do best – They like issuing orders. Nigeria lacks institutions of governance to checkmate the excesses of their president, and the members of the National Assembly are in-tow worshippers who are afraid to speak up. But speaking up is not enabled because there are no laws that protect one’s rights to do so. When freedom of speech is protected by law, human beings feel free to voice their concerns which invariably leads to a better society. Nigeria is a masculine country whereby even from family levels: One dares not speak up to their Papa, as doing so is seen as disrespectful and insulting. Then imagine speaking up to a President many stupidly address and call Father of the Nation. OMG!